BBC in a spin over Robert Peston's inside track to News International

"Can someone please tell me who Robert Peston works for?" asked one respondent yesterday on the BBC business editor's must-read blog on the corporation's website.

Click HERE to view graphic (74k jpg)

Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has been an influential figure in exposing the extent of phone hacking at News International, was voicing similar concerns: "Robert Peston is being spoon-fed the internal NI document handed over to the Met in chunks. They're spinning their bad news. It's not right."

The award-winning Mr Peston is known for his extensive contacts book and among his close friends are two fellow north Londoners: Will Lewis, a former professional colleague and now the general manager at Rupert Murdoch's News International; and Simon Greenberg, who was picked by Mr Lewis to become the company's director of corporate affairs.

Mr Lewis and Mr Greenberg are members of the new News International "Management and Standards Committee" and have been part of the recent confidential discussions between the company and Scotland Yard.

Shortly before Christmas, Mr Peston hosted a private event at the BBC at which James Murdoch, News Corp's chairman and chief executive for Europe and Asia, talked of the company's future plans. Mr Murdoch, who attended at the invitation of the BBC, addressed a select group of less than 20 senior BBC figures and discussed the News Corp bid for total control of BSkyB, although he made no reference to the phone-hacking affair.

That event and Mr Peston's role at it are indicative of the business editor's status, although he had previously clashed with James Murdoch at a dinner in Edinburgh in 2009, shortly after the News Corp scion had made a public attack on the BBC.

Mr Peston's relations with Mr Lewis, with whom he formerly worked at the Financial Times, go much deeper.

None of this would be a problem for the BBC if it were not for the suggestion that Mr Peston's scoops this month were helpful to Mr Murdoch's media organisation or factions within it.

Mr Peston's first exclusive, revealed on the Ten O'Clock News on Tuesday last week, was the discovery by News International of emails showing payments to the police by the News of the World during the editorship of Andy Coulson. The story heaped further blame on Mr Coulson, who was questioned by police last Friday.

By Sunday, Mr Peston had gone further, revealing that emails had been found which appeared to show Mr Coulson had authorised the payments. The next day he released further details from the communications, claiming they showed Mr Coulson's paper paid a Royal Protection Officer for the contact details of members of the Royal Family.

As concerns were raised over Mr Peston's role in the story, some of his respondents expressed concern. "Is there a chance that Will [Lewis] is using you and will dump you in it at some suitable juncture?" asked David Lester yesterday. "Because from where I'm sitting, I wouldn't want to get caught between the forces now coming into play."

The BBC's position in reporting this story is particularly sensitive, given its intense rivalry with News Corp. The BBC director-general Mark Thompson responded to James Murdoch's 2009 attack with an assault on BSkyB's lack of contribution to the British creative industries. Later, Mr Thompson signed up to a letter of concern over News Corp's bid to fully own the satellite broadcaster, prompting criticisms from the BBC Trust, which feared the letter would not assist BBC's journalists in covering the story impartially.

Mr Peston's department manager, Jeremy Hillman, editor of the BBC Economics and Business Unit, defended his colleague. "Robert almost always uses multiple sources for anything he reports and we reject the suggestion that there is any bias in Robert's reports, or indeed any conflict of interest because none exists," he said.

"It would be very hard to make a convincing case that Robert's reporting is anything other than impartial, reflecting a range of views and interests on this complex story."

Robert Peston's hacking reports

* In his first big scoop, on 5 July, Robert Peston reported, with some understatement, the "significant development" that the News of the World under former editor Andy Coulson had paid police officers for information. He later admitted: "I obtained this story in a circuitous route, when I heard that Vanity Fair was planning to publish a story on alleged payments to police."



* Days later, on 10 July, the BBC business editor dropped the news that News International had found "smoking gun" emails that "appear to show" that Mr Coulson authorised the payments.

* On Monday came further revelations, distracting from the furore surrounding Rebekah Brooks, that the email cache showed that the News of the World under Mr Coulson paid a Royal Protection Officer for Royal phone numbers.



* Collectively the stories were hugely damaging to Mr Coulson, the former Downing Street communications chief. They also gave News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks some respite from being the face of the hacking story, and represented the general manager of News International Will Lewis, Peston's close friend, as the company's new broom.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - London - £40K plus benefits - Salary negotiable

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: A leading consu...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?